Rocket Attack In Iraq Kills American And British Personnel, Reprisal Strikes May Be Underway (Updated)
A similar fatal attack in Iraq last year led to the US killing a top Iranian officer and Iran firing ballistic missiles at US troops.
Details are still coming in, but at least two American military personnel, as well as a member of the U.K. armed forces, have reportedly died in a rocket attack on Taji Air Base in Iraq. There are said to be multiple additional casualties and there are already reports emerging that the United States may have struck bases housing Iranian forces and their regional proxies in neighboring Syria in response.
The attack took place sometime between 7:30 and 8:00 PM local time on Mar. 11, 2020, at Taji, which is situated around 15 miles northwest of the center of Baghdad. The attackers fired approximately 15 unguided rockets from an improvised truck-mounted launcher, which Iraqi security forces subsequently found abandoned.
These would be the first members of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq to be killed in a rocket attack like this targeting foreign troops, since Dec. 27, 2019. Nawres Waleed Hamid, a military contractor and U.S. citizen, died on that date in a similar attack on the K-1 base near the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk.
No group has claimed responsibility, but previous rocket attacks aimed at bases that coalition forces use, as well as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, which have been regularly occurring for months now, have been tied to Iran and its proxies. There are already reports that the U.S. government believes that was the case in this attack on Taji and that U.S. military aircraft may have launched strikes on bases that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and militias that it supports, occupy in Syria.
If true, this would be similar to the initial response from the United States to the killing of Nawres Waleed Hamid last year. Afterward, on Dec. 31, a mob made of Iranian-backed militia members and their supporters attacked the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
In January, the U.S. government further decided to kill General Qasem Soleimani, then head of Iran's Quds Force, the arm of the IRGC responsible for offensive operations outside of the country, in Baghdad. Days later, Iran launched an unprecedented ballistic missile attack on bases that U.S. forces occupy in Iraq, that did not kill anyone but left more than 100 American troops with traumatic brain injuries.
What further action the United States decides to take now remains to be seen. On Mar. 10, The Wall Street Journal had reported that the U.S. military had begun withdrawing some of the personnel that it rushed to Iraq and other locations in the Middle East following the spike in tensions across the region after the rocket attack on K-1 last year.
"The civilized world must send a clear and unified message to the Iranian regime: Your campaign of terror, murder, mayhem will not be tolerated any longer," U.S. President Donald Trump had also said during a speech on Jan. 8, the day after the Iranian ballistic missile attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq. "It will not be allowed to go forward."
This attack on Taji also comes just days after two U.S. Marine Raiders died during an operation against ISIS terrorists in Iraq.
We will continue to update this story are more information becomes available.
UPDATE: 6:20pm EST:
U.S. Central Command has now confirmed that two American troops and one British service member died in the rocket attack on Taji. A dozen more coalition personnel, including more U.S. forces and a contractor, were injured. A U.S. official also told VOA that 18 rockets were fired at the base and that the launcher contained a total of 30, the rest of which did not function properly.
Al-Monitor's Jack Detsch noted that the attack also came on Qasem Soleimani's birthday. He would have been 63.
The U.S. House of Representatives also succeeded in passing a resolution intended to restrict President Trump's ability to wage war on Iran without express authorization from Congress on Mar. 11. The Senate passed its version last month. In both cases, some Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of the measure, which the Trump Administration had publicly opposed.
CNN also reported that a U.S. official that it spoke with had denied that the United States had carried out reprisal strikes in Syria, but said that it would pursue those it believes to be responsible in Iraq. That same individual said that the immediate American assessment was that the attack was carried out by Iranian-supported Iraqi militias.
UPDATE: 7:15pm EST:
Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), the formal name of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria, has released the following statement on the attack on Taji:
"Three Coalition personnel were killed during a rocket attack on Camp Taji, Iraq, March 11. The names of the personnel are withheld pending next of kin notification, in accordance with national policies."
"Approximately 12 additional personnel were wounded during the attack. The attack is under investigation by the Coalition and Iraqi Security Forces. Camp Taji is an Iraqi base that hosts Coalition personnel for training and advising missions."
"Approximately 18 107mm Katyusha rockets struck the base. The Iraqi Security Forces found a rocket-rigged truck, a few miles from Camp Taji."
"This information is current as of 12:30 a.m. Baghdad time."
UPDATE: 8:15pm EST:
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has issued the following statement regarding the attack on Taji:
"The Foreign Secretary has spoken to the US Secretary of State and we will continue to liaise with our international partners to fully understand the details of this abhorrent attack."
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